Want medical care without quickly draining your fortune? Try Singapore or Hong Kong as your healthy havens.
This morning’s post by fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, contained a small paragraph that linked to an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) about a hospital in the Cayman Islands that is delivering excellent care at a fraction of the cost.
Joe’s blog generally focuses on health care and workers’ comp issues, and has never crossed over into my territory. Not that I mind that.
In fact, this post is a shoutout to Joe for understanding what many in health care and workers’ comp have failed to realize — the US health care system, which includes workers’ comp medical care, has failed and failed miserably to keep costs down and to provide excellent care at lower cost.
That the medical-industrial complex and their political lackeys refuse to see this is a crime against the rights of Americans to get the best care possible at the lowest cost.
As I have pointed out in previous posts, the average medical cost for lost-time claims in workers’ comp has been rising for more than twenty years, even if from year to year there has been a modest decrease, the trend line has always been on the upward slope, as seen in this chart from this year’s NCCI State of the Line Report.
The authors of the HBR article asked this question: What if you could provide excellent care at ultra-low prices at a location close to the US?
Narayana Health (NH) did exactly that in 2014 when they opened a hospital in the Cayman Islands — Health City Cayman Islands (HCCI). It was close to the US, but outside its regulatory ambit.
The founder of Narayana Health, Dr. Devi Shetty, wanted to disrupt the US health care system with this venture, and established a partnership with the largest American not-for-profit hospital network, Ascension.
According to Dr. Shetty, “For the world to change, American has to change…So it is important that American policy makers and American think-tanks can look at a model that costs a fraction of what they pay and see that it has similarly good outcomes.”
Narayana Health imported innovative practices they honed in India to offer first-rate care for 25-40% of US prices. Prices in India, the authors state, were 2-5% of US prices, but are still 60-75% cheaper than US prices, and at those prices can be extremely profitable as patient volume picked up.
In 2017, HCCI had seen about 30,000 outpatients and over 3,500 inpatients. They performed almost 2,000 procedures, including 759 cath-lab procedures.
HCCI’s outcomes were excellent with a mortality rate of zero — true value-based care. [Emphasis mine]
HCCI is accredited by the JCI, Joint Commission International.
Patient testimonials were glowing, especially from a vascular surgeon from Massachusetts vacationing in the Caymans who underwent open-heart surgery at HCCI following a heart attack. “I see plenty of patients post cardiac surgery. My care and recovery (at HCCI) is as good or better than what I have seen. The model here is what the US health-care system is striving to get to.”
A ringing endorsement from a practicing US physician about a medical travel facility and the level of care they provide.
HCCI achieved these ultra-low prices by adopting many of the frugal practices from India:
- Hospital was built at a cost of $700,00 per bed, versus $2 million per bed in the US. Building has large windows to take advantage of natural light, cutting down on air-conditioning costs. Has open-bay intensive care unit to optimize physical space and required fewer nurses on duty.
- NH leverage relations with its suppliers in India to get similar discounts at HCCI. All FDA approved medicines were purchased at one-tenth the cost for the same medicines in the US. They bought equipment for one-third or half as much it would cost in the US.
- They outsourced back-office operations to low-cost but high skilled employees in India.
- High-performing physicians were transferred from India to HCCI. They were full-time employees on fixed salary with no perverse incentives to perform unnecessary tests or procedures. Physicians at HCCI received about 70% of US salary levels.
- HCCI saved on costs through intelligent make-versus-buy decisions. Ex., making their own medical oxygen rather than importing it from the US. HCCI saved 40% on energy by building its own 1.2 megawatt solar farm.
And here is the key takeaway:
The HCCI model is potentially very disruptive to US health care. Even with zero copays and deductibles and free travel for the patient and a chaperone for 1-2 weeks, insurers would save a lot of money. [Emphasis mine]
US insurers have watched HCCI with interest, but so far has not offered it as an option to their patients. A team of US doctors came away with this warning: “The Cayman Health City might be one of the disruptors that finally pushes the overly expensive US system to innovate.”
The authors conclude by stating that US health care providers can afford to ignore experiments like HCCI at their own peril.
The attitude towards medical travel among Americans can be summed up by the following from Robert Pearl, CEO of Permanante Medical Group and a clinical professor of surgery at Stanford: “Ask most Americans about obtaining their health care outside the United States, and they respond with disdain and negativity. In their mind, the quality and medical expertise available elsewhere is second-rate, Of course, that’s exactly what Yellow Cab thought about Uber. Kodak thought about digital photography, General Motors thought about Toyota, and Borders thought about Amazon.”
Until this attitude changes, and Americans drop their jingoistic American Exceptionalism, they will continue to pay higher costs for less excellent care in US hospitals. More facilities like HCCI in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caymans, and elsewhere in the region need to step up like HCCI and Narayana Health have. Then the medical-industrial complex will have to change.
The magazine, The Economist, published a ten-page special report in their April 28th edition on universal health care worldwide.
The report, which one social media commenter said was a perfect example of title and context differentiation, and gave no data or reason why health care was closer to being universal, is an example of a neoliberal publication going out on a limb with an issue vital to all human beings, and giving it short-shrift.
Throughout the report, The Economist mentions the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the Gates Foundation as international organizations involved with public health in developing countries. The report contains statistics on the percentage of people in certain countries who do not have insurance, and other statistics to paint a bleak picture of health care in developing countries.
What the report fails to do is mention that it is exactly the World Bank, the IMF, international financial organizations, philanthropies like the Gates and other foundations, and the WHO, that have been responsible for preventing these countries from improving their health care systems.
Chapter Nine of the Waitzkin, et al., book previously reviewed in this blog, discusses in detail how these institutions influenced health care around the world for the benefit of multinational corporations in the developed world, and to the detriment of the health care in the Global South.
In particular, the WHO, which began in 1948 as a sub-organization of the United Nations, lost considerable funding due to ideological opposition to several programs operated by sub-organizations of the UN, and because the Reagan administration withheld annual dues. The UN began experiencing increasing budgetary shortfalls, which was passed onto organizations like the WHO.
But to the rescue, came the World Bank, and with this influx of private funds, the agenda of WHO changed to match that of the World Bank, international financial institutions and trade agreements. It was in the interest of these entities that health care be carried out in a vertical, top-down approach that left out key parts of the health care services needed in developing countries, namely surgery and concentrated on addressing infectious diseases like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
But there is another reason why public health in developing countries is in such a dismal state, and it has to do with the debt crisis these nations and others were subjected to by the nations of the Global North and the World Bank, IMF and international financial institutions.
According to the blog, One.org, “Developing countries spent years repaying billions of dollars in loans, many of which had been accumulated during the Cold War under corrupt regimes. Years later, these debts became a serious barrier to poverty reduction and economic development in many poor countries. Governments began taking on new loans to repay old ones and many countries ended up spending more each year to service debt payments than they did on health and education combined.”
After many years of activism on the part of advocates for the poor and other activists, the nations of the Global North, through such organizations as the G8, the IMF and World Bank, decide to abolish debts worth billions of dollars owed by developing countries. Yet, despite this action, data in the World Bank’s global development finance 2012 report shows total external debt stocks owed by developing countries increased by $437 billion over 12 months to stand at $4 trillion at the end of 2010, the latest period of available data, according to the Guardian.
Third world debt was a serious issue when I was in college studying international relations and foreign policy, and I was aware of the efforts to reduce or eliminate this debt, so when I read in The Economist that the World Bank and WHO are engaged in public health issues around the world, I have to ask myself how is it possible that the very institutions responsible for the state of affairs experienced in developing countries as pertains to health care, are the very same institutions undoing the wreckage they created. Or at least not in ways that are advantageous to the citizens of those countries.
Instead of the vertical, top-down orientation these institutions are engaged in, a broad, horizontal orientation needs to be implemented that will radically alter the health care systems of these countries and provide all of their people with truly universal health care.
Lastly, The Economist looks at the US, and rightly points to our stubborn adherence to individualism and even quotes Republican congressman, Jason Chaffetz, who said, “Americans have choices.And they’ve got to make a choice. And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
Many Republicans, like Rep. Chaffetz, says The Economist, believe health care is not a right but something people choose to buy (or not) in a marketplace. I can tell you, dear readers, I did not choose to have End-Stage Renal Disease, nor did I choose to be long-term unemployed (that is due to neoliberal economic policies and to the financial meltdown caused by the very institutions that have a negative impact on universal health care), so Rep. Chaffetz and his Republican colleagues are wrong. And besides, you can’t buy health, as we all get sick and we all die. What you buy is a policy, but policies are not the same as care.
One other reason The Economist cites for the US being an outlier in providing universal care is resistance to reform by powerful interest groups.
I don’t believe this report did anything to move the debate forward towards universal health care, either here in the US, or around the world. It really did not cover any new ground, and its prediction for health care universally achieved is either wishful thinking or a delusion. Either way, until the economic order changes, nothing in health care will.
In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal had the following article last week about American hospitals looking to expand oversees to China.
Just over four months ago, I published an open letter to the medical travel industry.
To date, I have had no response to my letter of December 14th, nor have I been invited to attend any of the conferences that have been held since, or will be held in the future, and I just learned of one at the end of this month in Washington, DC.
By that time, I will have been writing this blog for five and a half years, and still on a daily basis, my posts get at best, less than fifty views, and on most occasions, not even twenty.
I have posted them to LinkedIn, Twitter, and have re-posted them several times, and yet, each time, I get a few clicks added to the ones previously received.
I am putting my heart and soul in this and not receiving any compensation, although I should. So would it hurt if the industry paid a little more attention to my writing and to me, in lieu of actual remuneration?
As a friend we all know once said to me, “What am I? Chopped Liver?”
I am not doing this to stroke my ego, nor am I doing it because I have nothing better to do. I am doing it because I care. I am in the process of reading a fascinating book on the real reasons health care in the U.S. and elsewhere is undergoing major changes that have affected the delivery of health care, it’s cost, quality, efficiency, and its efficacy.
The least any of you could do is acknowledge my efforts and pay me some courtesy. Is that too much to ask?
I’ve met some of you in the past seven years since I began this journey, but I’d like to meet more of you. And I am sure you would like to meet me. I am funny and am a great person to know.
What say you?
Thank you very much.
If you thought I had abandoned talking about workers’ comp and medical travel, guess again. It was on the back burner waiting for the right time to come forward once again.
This time, it is due to one of my LinkedIn connections, Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA. Dr. Meyers is the President and CEO at the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs.
Dr. Meyers published a medical traveler’s check list which he calls his “7 C’s”. He advises medical travelers to complete the checklist before going abroad for medical care.
For those of you in comp who have been skeptical about the practicality and efficacy of medical travel, this checklist is intended to prove that what medical travel really is, is not some quack form of medicine or third world medicine in some dump of a hospital or clinic.
Here is Dr. Meyers checklist:
- Credentials: Check the quality of your surgeon and the facility where they intend to do your surgery. Be sure the hospital or ambulatory surgery center is accredited by a recognized accreditation organization. The table stakes for the surgeon are licensure in the state or country, board certification and a lack of repeated malpractice or disciplinary actions. Harder, if not impossible, to find will be a record of the surgeon’s outcomes for a given procedure, so you will have to rely on referral from a trusted source or recommendations. Online site reviews do not reflect quality of outcomes.
- Cost: How and how much will you be expected to pay for your operation? If something goes wrong, who is responsible for paying future care? What will be covered and what won’t? Is there insurance, for example medical evacuation in case of a dire emergency, you can buy to help defer some of the risk? Bundled payment i.e., a fixed price for specifically defined episode of care, is becoming more common.
- Continuity of care: In the best case, a doctor at home will help you to find a surgeon away from home and will accept you back as a patient once you return home. However, many surgeons are reluctant to do that so be sure you have a plan for continuity of care when you get home. Find out who will take care of you if, and when your surgeon is not available. If something goes wrong during a procedure in an ambulatory surgery center, where will you be transferred for care? Be sure you understand where you should go for emergency care when you get back home and whether your insurance company, if applicable, will cover the cost.
- Care coordination: Leaving home can involve not just medical issues, but travel and hospitality issues as well, e.g., customs and immigration forms, translation services, hotel and flight arrangements, and accommodations for companions or family members.
- Companion: Be sure you travel with a trusted, reliable companion or family member who can help and support you during your postoperative recovery. Another option is to hire a trained medical profession, like a nurse, who will accompany you on your trip for a fee.
- Continuity of data: Be sure you obtain a copy of your medical records, discharge summary and operative note. Do not rely on the surgeon transmitting the information to your doctor back home. Medical records are not interoperable in the best of circumstances and, most likely, sending reports and forms from a distant place will be a hassle, inefficient and expensive.
- Contraindications: Here are some medical conditions that are contraindications to flying.
This is not some slick marketing tool created by a medical travel facilitator or promoter. This is a reasoned, carefully constructed checklist written by a medical doctor advising potential patients of foreign medical providers and facilities what to do, what to look for, and what to expect when going abroad for medical care.
Those of you who have criticized my idea in the past, and you know who you are, should be aware that there are real professional people who strive to do the right thing, even if that means that they or their domestic colleagues lose patients to fellow physicians and facilities in other countries. Dr. Meyers did not have to do this for his sake; he did it for the sake of the patient. Which is something you should be doing, instead of doing the same old thing repeatedly and expecting different results.
It is high time workers’ comp opened up and let the sunshine in. The patients will be the better for it.
Many of you have probably thought that going abroad for medical care after passage of ACA was a thing of the past, or that the idea that workers injured on the job would go abroad was a “stupid, ridiculous idea and a non-starter”, have forgotten that medical care in the US is the most expensive in the world.
But the simple, undeniable fact is that we spend too much on medical care and get very poor results and outcomes, while other countries spend far less and get better outcomes.
Why are we so stubborn? And why hasn’t the workers’ comp world realized that they are fighting an uphill battle to lower costs every time they come out with some new strategy or cost containment measure that never lives up to its promise industry-wide?
Sure, there are individual cases where these companies save money for a particular client, but overall, the cost of medical care for workers’ comp still rises, even if that rise is slow at times, or appears to have shrunk, only to rise once again the next year, as seen in the NCCI State of the Line reports.
An article yesterday in Salon.com said that traveling abroad for medical care simply makes more sense — even regular teeth cleaning is four times more expensive in the US than it is in Mexico.
One of the first procedures mentioned in the article involves a Minnesota couple who went out of the country for an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure. On her fourth trip to the Czech Republic, it finally worked, and she got pregnant. The procedure in the US would have cost them between $12,000 and $15,000.
While IVF is not something that workers’ comp would cover, the fact remains that procedures cost far too much in the US, and in the case of IVF, only have a 29% success rate, according to a CNBC report cited in the article.
An estimated 1.7 million Americans traveled abroad for care in 2017, according the Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, and author of the same titled book. In my seven years of studying medical travel, Josef Woodman’s name has figured prominently in many articles and forums of discussion on the subject.
The article goes on to say that that is 10 times more than the 2008 estimate from Time magazine.
Some of the top destinations for medical care are: India, Israel (always go to a Jewish doctor first), Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea (unless that little twerp up north gets an itchy trigger finger), and Turkey.
However, there are other, more accessible destinations closer to home like Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, etc.
Typical operations are orthopedic or spine surgery (are you listening work comp world?), reproductive operations, cardiovascular and eye surgery.
For example, a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) in the US costs an estimated $92,000 (you could buy a couple of nice cars for that amount), whereas in India, the same operation would cost $9,800.
A total knee replacement (are you still listening ,workers’ compsters?) cost around $31,000 in the good ole US of A, but in Thailand, costs around $13,000. Tell me how you can save that much on a knee replacement using any of your so-called cost saving schemes?
These same operations in Costa Rica would cost 45 to 65% less than in the US, and would not require such long flights from most parts of the US. What are you waiting for? Save some money, I guarantee your insureds will love you for it.
Malaysia would be 60 to 80% less, but why go there when you can go to Costa Rica?
According to Woodman, medical tourism (travel) is a Band-Aid for the country’s dysfunctional health care system.
Woodman told Salon, “I don’t think you can penetrate this with philanthropy. It’s gonna be baby steps all the way. But in the meantime, medical tourism is a really important option.”
Woodman also said he did not like the term “medical tourism” because it is not a vacation. You may have noticed that I use the term “medical travel” instead. It is travel for medical purposes, and if there is tourism component to it, it is incidental to the reason for going in the first place.
Patients who cannot afford dental work, IVF or orthopedic surgery in the US, Woodman said, should consider travelling abroad. If their operation or treatment is expected to cost them $6,000 out of pocket, they will save money — even with the plane ticket.
Oh, by the way, that Minnesota couple spent, get this, only $235 for the IVF, not including flights. With such reasonable cost savings, it would be a no-brainer for workers’ comp to do the same.
But some people are stupid, ridiculous, and non-starters in my book.